Holly Johnson is the founder and owner of Aviana Yoga and the author of the upcoming novel Soaring with the Soul: An Aerial Yoga Guide! She uses her passion for yoga to service others through movement and compassion. Holly is a beacon of light and her story is one to inspire. This is an interview worth savoring. Her warmth radiates off her advice and her journey empowers us to never stop dreaming.
- What is your personal mantra?
I have a number of different ones I keep in my pocket it all depends on what pattern of the subconscious is presenting itself that needs to be shifted. I recently started working with Om Mani Padme Hum. It is a powerful mantra that assists in the removal of the attachment to the ego, to jealousy, desire, prejudice, possessiveness, and hatred while establishing generosity, ethics, patience, perseverance, concentration, and wisdom.
- What sparked your interest in aerial yoga?
My interest in aerial yoga came about from two interests that were sparked, one for my own personal growth and the other for the potential of service to others.
After I finished my 200 hour teacher training, I had been practicing yoga for 10 years at that point and had reached a point where I really wanted to branch into greater expressions of asana on my mat such as arm balances and inversions; however, my neck was presenting limitations that was not allowing the further growth of my practice. I had grown up riding horses and used to jump fences, sometimes getting over the fence on the horse’s back wasn’t always the case and I found myself on the ground a number of times with various injuries. When I discovered aerial yoga, I was elated coming into my very first inversion and being able to stay there to enjoy the benefits without any of the former physical repercussions my body would feel on the mat.
The other spark that ignited a fire of passion and purpose came about when I first surrendered into savasana in the hammock. I was instantly dropped into a deep state of meditation. I witnessed how the hugging sensation of the fabric acted like a weighted blanket, which have been proven to be very effective in helping to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. You literally are instantly dialed down and can more readily let go of your thoughts. In my former life as an equestrian, I managed 40 horses at a therapeutic riding center in Loveland, Colorado. That first time connecting with the hammock in this way, from the colors of the fabrics, to the textile stimulation of the fabric on the skin, and its capacity to calm down an overactive nervous system, I thought of the incredible service this piece of equipment could be in supporting the therapeutic modalities available to children with autism. From there is was hooked and motivated to help the world realize the amazing potential available from this simple apparatus.
- What is the aerial yoga experience like? (emotionally & physically)
I would have to clarify that I can only speak to what the Aviana Aerial Yoga experience is like, the term ‘aerial yoga’ is getting broadly used across the board, showing up in many different ways and with a number of different apparatuses. With the budding of this style of practice, the practitioner really needs to look into the class that is being offered and who is leading it. Everyday I hear about instructors that are watching Youtube videos posted of movements called aerial yoga and they are simply mimicking this in the studio to lead aerial yoga classes, but have not actually had any formal training. There are a multitude of safety concerns not to mention integrity concerns.
An Aviana class is a full sensory experience from a tantalizing playlist of music, soothing aromas of essential oils, the visual appeal of the colorful fabrics, the sensation of them on your skin, and the elegant flow from one asana to the next with rhythm and grace. The introduction of the aerial yoga hammock as a prop brings about the opportunity for instant liberation as you are able to surrender your trust into the support of fabric. The class is focused on the breath inviting the discipline of a traditional yoga practice, but at the same time offers lightness and playfulness as the heaviness of the world is released and suspension is attained. The class is not entirely conducted up in the air, there are actually maybe 1-3 inversions at the most in a class, so yoga mats are utilized and there is the opportunity to utilize the hammock as an assist for deeper lengthening. When melting away into your cocooned bliss you will feel held and wrapped in self-love as you drift into your sacred space of connection to the greater whole, time and time again I receive the feedback that savasana in the hammock is, ‘the best savasana ever.’
Since classes are conducted with anywhere from 3 to 10 students at the most, it offers the student the opportunity to maintain a more aware focus and to feel a connection to the instructor. This I have discovered aids the class in being a more intimate and community oriented experience as the student is more likely to talk and share with the fellow students experiencing the exhilarating class.
- How did you come across the goddess Aviana?
I was invited to Ecuador 2 years ago to go on a tour through the Galapagos Islands, the experience was for 1 week, but I always like to make the most of my travels and decided to commit to a month of traveling around Ecuador. I was able to visit one of the farms that I have always wanted to see where Young Living sustainably nourishes the plants to produce their amazing essential oils such as ylang ylang and oregano, I was also blessed with being able to contribute to a family’s sustainable farm in the cloud rainforest where they produced sugar cane and lived off of the grid. I brought one of my hammocks with and took every opportunity I could to hang from an avocado tree to practice.
While I was there I knew that there was an energy wanting to come in to serve as the vessel for my aerial yoga teacher training program since the dawn of the program I have always utilized the Mythical Goddess Tarot created by Katherine Skaggs and Sage Holloway as a cornerstone to the program. I feel the archetypes of the Divine Feminine represented in the deck serve the modern day woman in discovering a deeper understanding of herself, and I also feel that there are new goddesses ready to be activated.
I sat with what embodied the energy of the program and the vision I have for growing a culture that will share in sisterhood while nourishing the planet and one another. I knew that she needed to be represented with a bird energy and that she was boldly connected to her femininity. In Ecuador, there are two major cities, Quito and Guayaquil, I flew on a 45 minute flight back and forth between them several times and the airline that I flew on was called Avianca. The experience always felt very nurturing with stewardesses all wearing the same shade of ruby red lipstick and all of their hair tied back neatly in a bun with one of those adorable caps on their heads, they were always smiling and incredibly pleasant, even witnessing them walking around the airport they maintained a tight knit pack as if in sisterhood together. I absolutely loved it and from the name Avianca, Aviana was born, with the ‘avi’ representing aviation and the ‘ana’ the feminine energy.
- What are some of your daily rituals?
- A cup of warm water with lemon first thing in the morning
- Sitting at my altar to reflect in gratitude and move into a space of stillness and balance
- A drop of Abundance essential oil on each of my wrists to be rubbed together with an affirmative prayer repeated
- Turning on the classical music station on the radio to serve as my background music while I work on the computer
- Taking time to be with nature
- Cooking at least 2 meals a day that will nourish my body and support my longevity
- Making a ta-da list at the end of each day to help me focus my energy the following day
- What were some lessons you learned when starting your own business?
- Get comfortable with discussing money, or as I like to view it, the energetic exchange, and learn to own your worth
- Get familiar with contracts and don’t be afraid to use them – in fact, always use them
- Business and yoga are two different energies and melding the two in finding balance is a constant challenge
- Be patient. Be gentle with yourself and never make choices out of fear or desperation.
- Get comfortable with rejection, but never give up, perseverance is key.
- Do not compare yourself to others, there is always going to be someone else doing the same thing that you are doing and sometimes it may seem that they are more successful or doing something better, this can be a huge setback to your confidence and your capacity to truly celebrate every little success that you do have along your journey.
- Celebrate every little success, pause and reflect at how far you have come from absolutely nothing to actually creating something that is taking on a life of its own and contributing to the greater good.
- What advice do you have for someone who fears failure?
Success is the view you are only able to see by climbing to the top of all of your failures. To fail is inevitable and it is where we learn the most.
- What was the best advice you’ve ever received?
Ride every stride. Which actually came from one of my horse trainers and is a cornerstone to riding in the Dressage discipline; however, it transferred over to my life where it is asking you stay present with each and every moment. My background began with horses, and while yoga has offered me an abundance of continued self-growth, my journey towards self-actualization began with horses as my greatest gurus.
- Looking back on 2016, what was a moment you will cherish forever?
It actually came at the end of 2016, on December 5th, the first snow of the year and I was blessed to be in my new home relaxing and watching the snow gently fall outside of the windows. There is something so serene and peaceful with that first snow especially this one that was nice and fluffy. I was with my boyfriend and our three dogs (who were also in a trance watching the snow come down). For the first time in a long time, I felt completely at home, safe, secure, and grounded after a scattered busy year.
- How has yoga changed your perspective on your body and life?
Yoga has transformed my perspective of my body greatly, I still remember when I first began to practice and all of the horrible things I used to think about myself when I would catch glimpses of my body in the mirror in certain poses. I was very judgmental and harsh towards myself in regards to my body image. Yet, the layers began to peel back and I learned to love my body, every inch of it and I have learned to embrace its shape and to accept it just the way that it is.
Yoga has changed my life in offering me the opportunity to explore the uncomfortable spaces, realizing true growth happens the more you seek to discover the uncomfortable spots and discover where restriction and resistance is coming up. Yoga gave me the courage to challenge myself to get out of my comfort bubble and see what might be available beyond the boundaries and limitations I created and it has been life changing.